‘The Potato Eaters’ was one of van Gogh’s favourites. It is considered his first great work. Painting of the time tended to represent noble themes such as princes or mythical characters. The post impressionist choice of every day themes, here peasants dining, dignifies their subjects. Exaggerated knuckles enhance the sense of poverty. The dark composition is honest – life is hard for these peasants. But within it van Gogh painted hope. Light shines on the meal. Light stands for divine love for van Gogh. Rather than a cathedral of church van Gogh shows Christ’s presence in this home. He declared Christ’s presence with the poor, even if the poor are not welcome in the church. The painting expresses the joy, dignity and community of sharing a meal. (I love the woman playing host – pouring four cups of tea.) The man passing the cup is supposed to remind us of Jesus at the Lord’s supper. Meals are often sacred are they not?
Pierre Puvis de Chavannes has painted a poor widowed fisherman. His daughter entertains herself by picking flowers. de Chavannes is unusual for his time in choosing for his subjects people who are marginalised and pitied. He paints in a style reserved for myth and history painting, dignifying his subjects.
The French industrial city of Rouen painted by Camille Pissarro, ‘Pont Boieldieu, Rouen, sunset, misty weather’ (1896). Pissarro exemplifies for me what it means to ‘love a place’, an activity which is the beginning of mission! Chimney stacks, crowded sidewalks and grey sky may make Rouen an unlikely subject of affection. Yet the playfulness with which light dances in the water below and the smoke above betrays Pissarro’s deep affection for his subject.
Tragedy and brutality plague the history of Australian indigenous people since white settlement as it does the history of the indigenous people of Canada. Richard Trudgeon’s ‘Why Warriors Lie Down and Die’ tells the story of the indigenous people of Arnhem land, northern Australia. Trudgeon asks why the lives of indigenous people are worse than ever – and why policies of self-determination have failed. This is an informative, disturbing and dignifying account of the indigenous people of Arnhem land.